Test Guardian – The beginning of my open source business journey

If you are interested in reading more about my open source business journey – follow the business account on Twitter: https://twitter.com/testguardianio

If you are interested in signing up for information on the product itself, visit the website: https://testguardian.io

I dislike using the word ‘startup’ to describe most side projects or businesses, as I think in most cases what that entity is doing is not what most would describe as ‘startup’-esque. There are no flashy offices, no desire to work a long work week from any employee and no desire to become a unicorn business; something that seems to have become part of the core definition of a modern startup.

Instead, I like to describe those entities as businesses. That’s right, just plain ol’ businesses.

I do realise, however, that the phrase ‘startup’ has come to colloquially mean ‘internet business’ in most social circles.

Mine are no different, and it is with great excitement that I would like to announce the start of a project called ‘Test Guardian’, an open source automated testing application for those with little or no experience. At its core, it brings powerful automated testing techniques to those with little or no coding experience, in the browser, for free (or paid if they choose to use our hosted version). If you’re interested in learning more about the tool, then feel free to visit its website: https://testguardian.io.

What I want these blog posts to be about is less about advertising the product and more about the journey that a ‘solo-entrepreneur’ (aka me in this case) travels on when they are creating their business. What’s more: I want to commentate on the open source side of the business, ranging from the source code to the infrastructure to the profit figures every year, how I plan on monetising something that is given away to users for free and the ups and downs of being an open source maintainer.

I have no idea what the outcome of this business will be. It could fail catastrophically, leaving me and my business at a net loss on this investment and without seeing a penny repaid. Or, it could end up as a comfortable lifestyle business for me. Only time will tell, and, I don’t want to weigh in on where I think this business could end up.

The journey thus far

I’ve been writing software now for over half of my life. Professionally, I’ve been writing software and web applications for companies all of my working adult life (unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, that’s only 5 years!).

Since I was old enough to understand what a lifestyle business was, that has been my goal: to provide a solid foundation for me to live my life on. I don’t want to become a unicorn, I don’t want to change the world (though it would be nice) – I want to live life comfortably, and enjoy it whilst I can.

It was therefore only natural that I would start my own business when the time was right and I had the opportunity to do so.  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be able to do that recently and ever since (and before, albeit dreaming), I have been thinking about what project (outside of consultancy work) I should create.

At first, I was trying extremely hard to come up with ideas, so much so that I spent hours upon hours coming up with potential products that, in my head, were great, and the best thing since sliced bread.

Once I’d gotten an idea I thought valuable I’d spend even more time creating my perfect logo. I would then buy a domain, set up hosted infrastructure for my project and then start creating it.

The previous paragraph is one of many things that led me to write my popular article “The art of over-engineering your side projects”: https://elsyms.com/the-art-of-over-engineering-your-side-projects/

After getting two to three weeks into the thick of the project and getting to what I thought was a shippable version I’d push it to production, only to find that:

  1. Nobody knew it even existed.
  2. Nobody, other than the imaginary people I was thinking of when I came up with the idea, wanted my product or even had a need for it.

Looking back, it’s hard not to laugh at myself. I have repeated the aforementioned process two to three times, and it was only in the past few months that I realised I had been doing every possible thing wrong. People have literally written books on why I should not do what I was doing. But, the ego in an unprepared mind always prevails.

I had not validated my idea, I had over-engineered my project before I had even started and had came out at the end with nothing more than a bruised ego, a useless domain and an even more useless logo.

I then decided something had to change, and spent time researching the best ways to create a profitable business from an idea. One common theme was reciprocated in every, single, article and every, single, guide that I read:

Validate your ideas with your target audience.

Something so simple, yet something that you instantly look over when you think you have come up with the next Facebook, Instagram or AirBNB.

So, I took heed of that advice and spoke of my idea to colleagues at my places of work, potential clients and businesses – to check that my dreams of creating a successful lifestyle business were not clouding the fact that nobody had a use for my idea. Turns out they thought it was a great ideat that they would use and, after some more market research, have decided to launch the product in its most infantile version: the post-validation internet validation phase; where I want to check with people online that I’d be able to market the idea to them and potentially sell it to them.

Plans for the future

Naturally, there are many things that need to be done in order to turn this validated idea into a live, functioning product.

Firstly, and in parallel with the rest of the points below I need to continuously market the product. This means social media interaction with potential customers, blog post writing, search engine optimisation and targeted advertising. All things I have a little experience in so am excited to put those (rusty) skills to good use and hopefully learn things whilst I am at it.

Secondly, I need to create an MVP (minimum-viable product) to show to potential users (with it being open sourced I need not worry about ‘people stealing muh code’ or complicated legal agreements). With this, I can then incorporate their feedback into the first beta release that is suitable for production use.

Thirdly, I need to create a roadmap of features that should be in the product. I can then use this to create a shippable version 1. With this version 1 release, I’ll be able to incorporate masses of non-developer friendly documentation to give anyone, anywhere the ability to utilise the product.

Fourthly, and most importantly for a lifestyle business, I need to put in place a plan to monetise the product. With it being open sourced, it’s a little difficult (aka impossible) to convince people to pay for the product itself (not that I would want to do that!), so my current ideas are to sell support agreements and hosted versions of the software to people who do not want to invest in the infrastructure or tooling to host it themselves and those who need support and advice.

Finally, though perhaps unrelated to turning the idea into a live, functioning product: I’d like to blog every aspect of the journey to turn my idea for an open sourced project into a viable lifestyle business; something I hope many of you will be interested in.

If you are interested in reading more about my open source business journey – follow the business account on Twitter: https://twitter.com/testguardianio

If you are interested in signing up for information on the product itself, visit the website: https://testguardian.io